The World, the Flesh & the Devil

Dullsville

The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959)

The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959)

I stumbled upon The World, the Flesh and the Devil several years ago on TCM in the middle of the airing. What I saw was a man arguing with a mannequin named Snotgrass. You can imagine I was intrigued and endured the remainder of a movie that eventually boils down to which of two men gets to mate with the one remaining woman on the earth, whether she likes it or not.

The story is a post-apocalyptic one. We start the picture with Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte) who is in a mine when a rumble causes a cave in and traps him underground. For five days he is trapped, communicating with the surface using a radio that transmits his messages but fails to send any back. Eventually, the digging sounds he has been hearing die away. The man escapes on his own means and reaches the surface to find the town utterly deserted. A newspaper indicates a nuclear attack from the United Nations has wiped out the entire world’s population.

Ralph travels to New York City where he sets up a lonely life in a posh high rise and uses his engineering know-how to set up generators. He installs a couple mannequins as his companions. When he gets fed up with Snotgrass, he launches the inanimate man over his balcony. The fake man’s impact with the ground launches a scream from a young woman who has been watching Ralph for weeks. She is glad to find Ralph has not killed himself but is still leery of him.

The two become fast friends and set up an apartment for the woman, Sarah (Inger Stevens), in a separate building. Over time, Sarah grows fond of Ralph, but he is all to aware of the difference in their skin color and his lingering concerns with propriety prevent him from acting on his own feelings.

But when a man arrives via a boat on the East River, the dynamics of the last men on earth’s relationship changes. Benson’s (Mel Ferrer) health is poor on arrival and Sarah nurses him back to health. He is instantly keen on the lovely young woman, but she doesn’t really want anything to do with him romantically, given her feelings for Ralph. The black man nevertheless pushes the two together and avoids them until Benson confronts him about a desire to get with Sarah.

The conflict between the men grows and becomes a shootout around the city. Benson hunts Ralph until the latter gives up the fight. In the end, all three walk arm in arm off into the sunset.

The World, the Flesh and the Devil might be an adequate inquiry into racial issues in the late 50s when contrasted with a brave new world, but as a last-man-on-earth-type story, it is quite absurd. Ralph takes many opportunities to remind us he is black, which is a plot line that fails to hold up today. We cannot help but think him utterly stupid for pushing the issue, especially when Sarah clearly is not concerned with the racial divide. It is rather disappointing to think that when all other humans are deceased that the remaining races will still fail to mingle.

Ferrer makes a wonderful ass and totally hateable character. It is also disappointing that the plot drives our characters to try to kill one another rather than realize the value of another helping hand in a world gone to hell.

Perhaps because of the year it was released, the movie depicts no dead bodies. Although the human race was allegedly wiped out by the radiation cloud that crawled across the earth –think On the Beach– all of humanity had apparently fled the city as a means of escape, leaving the viewer no corpses to view. Cars are left crashed into posts or clogged on bridges and highways, but no one apparently opted to stay put.

Stories about bleak futures have always intrigued me, but The World, the Flesh and the Devil is far from the best of them. The characters are difficult to relate to because of their racial hangups and ugly motives. The plot takes us nowhere profound and offers quite an absurd ending. Oh, and I should note on that point that as our characters walk off into an unknown future, the screen fills with the words “The Beginning”. Too bad all the story has taught us is that another duel is likely around the corner.

Knights of the Round Table

Dullsville

Knights of the Round Table (1954)

I tend to dislike movies set in any ancient era or really any time preceding the turn of the 19th Century. That being the case, the many costume dramas strewn throughout cinema history struggle to entice me. I one test of a truly great movies is that can garner the appreciation and enjoyment of the viewer who dislikes the given genre. Knights of the Roundtable does not do that for me.

Despite its big leading stars and sex appeal, Knights of the Round Table fails in the draw of its story and conviction of its actors. Taking a look at a different angle of the Sword in the Stone story of King Arthur, the flick focuses largely on Sir. Lancelot of the Lake (Robert Taylor) and his relationship with both Arthur (Mel Ferrer) and the king’s wife, Guinevere (Ava Gardner).

Amidst the many sword-fought battle/duel scenes, Lancelot makes the acquaintance of Arthur, who is essentially campaigning to be ruler of the land following his extraction of Excalibur from the stone. Once king, Arthur arranges to make good with his love Guinevere and marry her. The woman is being held in a castle, however, when Lancelot stumbles upon the situation. The knight fights the guard for her, not knowing she is Guinevere.

A love triangle of sorts ensues as Lancelot acts as best friend to Arthur while harboring feelings for the queen who does not hide her appreciation. Arthur seems so blind to the possibility of an inappropriate relationship that he declares Lancelot the Queen’s Champion. Knowing how he feels, Guinevere instructs Lancelot to marry Elaine (Maureen Swanson), who has been pouring her love all over the knight since before Guinevere entered the picture. Lancelot follows through with the marriage and takes his wife away from the castle to oversee the battlefield.

While away, Elaine dies in childbirth, prompting Lancelot’s return to Camelot –and his disposal of the baby with his father. The flame between the queen and the knight is rekindled, and a nearly innocent moment between them sparks a controversy that will bring down Arthur.

This description of the Knights of the Round Table certainly sounds far more sexy than it actually comes off. There are many other plot elements involved related to Modred (Stanley Baker) and Morgan LeFay’s (Anne Crawford) plot to disgrace and unseat Arthur. There is also a bit of a “bromance” within the story tracking the ups and downs between Arthur and Lancelot. The story has potential, but it failed to grasp me on any of these topics. The performances were just too underwhelming to drive an emotional response. Gardner is as gorgeous as ever, but offers nothing more. Ferrer, meanwhile, has never managed to convince me he is capable of a decent performance (including as husband to Audrey Hepburn. Zing!) Taylor, lastly, provides only a middle-of-the-road conveyance of Lancelot, a part that could have been played by anyone.

Knights of the Round Table does, however, have the distinction of being the first movie MGM shot in CinemaScope and recorded in stereo sound. The widescreen technique would become the mainstay of many epic adventures with vast landscapes like this one; though, certainly there were better movies shot in the format.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

Sex and the Single Girl

Wowza!

Sex and the Single Girl (1964)

     Both Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis have been actors of only moderate interest to me, but after viewing Sex and the Single Girl, I’m changing my tune. This wonderful joke on married and single life and male and female standards plays both leads to their best and makes for a riveting good time.

     Curtis as Bob Weston is managing editor at STOP magazine, a filthy gossip rag that prides itself on being the worst publication in town. Wood as Dr. Helen Brown is the latest feature of the magazine and author of the best-selling “Sex and the Single Girl” advice book. She is a psychologist who, thanks to STOP, is losing clients because they believe she is a virgin. Bob plans to slyly get the truth about Helen’s sexual experience to do a follow-up story, but of course falls in love along the way.

     Bob’s neighbors are the feuding couple Frank and Sylvia Broderick, played by middle-aged Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall. Frank is a hosiery manufacturer who is obsessed with examining women’s legs on a strictly professional basis, but his wife thinks he runs around. Because Frank hasn’t the time to see a marriage counselor, Bob takes it upon himself to pose as Frank and see Helen professionally, relaying any advice back to his neighbor. Doctor and patient have a moment of love at first sight upon meeting, but Bob, now known as Frank, has established himself as a married man.

     Bob makes a number of efforts to get Helen in bed, including faking a desire to kill himself that lands both parties in the river. Eventually the scam comes to a head when Helen’s request to meet with Sylvia results in three women showing up at her office, two of which are pretending to be the woman at Bob’s request. Once Bob’s identity is revealed and Sylvia understands the true nature of her husband, a car chase scene consumes the remainder of the feature.

     The last prolonged sequence in Sex and the Single Girl rings of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Great Race (which also features Curtis and Wood). The various parties, while chasing each other down en route to the airport, switch cars, drivers and strangers leading to the institutionalization of a police officer. The action is so distinctly different than the prior three-quarters of the flick that it could almost be it’s own short-subject movie.

    Possibly my favorite running gag in Sex and the Single Girl followed Curtis’ donning of a woman’s robe while he waits for his garments to dry at Helen’s apartment. When asked if he is uncomfortable in such a feminine item, he replies that he thinks he looks like Jack Lemmon, referencing of course Some Like It Hot, which five years earlier had both Curtis and Lemon in drag. The rest of the movie has characters saying Bob looks like Jack Lemmon at least half a dozen times.

     I cannot conclude without referencing two other essential members of the cast. First, an old Edward Everett Horton plays the head of STOP magazine and has few scenes but is a gem nevertheless. Secondly –and I thought I’d never say this– Mel Ferrer is highly amusing. He plays another psychologist in Helen’s office who finds himself fascinated with the girl after reading the STOP article. He had me giggling as he performed a rather adept solo dance while waiting for Helen to prepare for their date. On the whole, Sex and the Single Girl is highly romantic and greatly comedic and is supported by a fantastic cast.

  • Sex and the Single Girl is set for 4 p.m. ET Oct. 16 on TCM.

Cinematic Shorts: Wait Until Dark

Ring a Ding Ding

Wait Until Dark (1967)

     I realize for someone who professes to hold Audrey Hepburn as her favorite actress, I have failed to review many of her films here. The trouble is, I have seem them all, at least those that are in print and obtainable, and I am not huge on watching stuff I have already seen when there is such a wide expanse of new-to-me flicks to be consumed.

     Nevertheless, Wait Until Dark crossed my mind this week and I thought it essential to blog about. This “horror” flick –although it is not THAT scary– came late in Audrey’s career when she was no longer sporting her signature clothing or hair-do looks. In fact, she is deliberately plain in this movie because she plays blind woman Susy Hendrix. Audrey really was a master at playing the vision-impaired married lady, who attends “blind school” and adeptly makes here way through a basement apartment in New York.

     The story is an additional gem on top of Audrey’s work. By some sort of mix up at an airport, Susy’s husband Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) brings home a doll some woman forced on him. The husband pretty much exits the picture for the remainder of the action as he’s off being a photographer somewhere. The first shocker moment comes when Susy opens a closet and a woman’s body hangs in a garment bag from the door, but Susy is totally unaware. Next, Susy begins to get a number of visitors. Three men, played by Richard Crenna, Jack Weston and a masterful Alan Arkin, upon finding the place is occupied by a blind woman, begin to put on an act to get what they want: a doll filled with heroin. Susy mistakenly trusts one of the men, but is able to detect inconsistencies with the others and suspicious activities she cannot see but can hear.

     Susy solicits the help of an obnoxious neighbor girl to hide the doll and track down her husband, but ultimately Susy must defend herself. The result is a high-stress survival scene in which Susy breaks all the light bulbs in the house, dumps flammable photo-producing fluids on the villain and holds matches before him.

     The trailer for Wait Until Dark warned that the theater would go completely black at one point and that it would be highly frightening. They were not lying. There is one instance in the film that will make anyone jump the first time they see this (watching the movie with friends last summer I got quite a bit of amusement from this). Alan Arkin might outshine Audrey here as the criminal we begin to realize might just be out of his mind.

     Wait Until Dark was produced by Audrey’s first husband Mel Ferrer but at the end of that union when they were already facing marital troubles. The couple had appeared together first on Broadway in “Ondine” and later in the dreadfully long War and Peace. Ferrer, who was not a great actor, would go on to do more directing work. They had a son, Sean, who goes with the last name Hepburn Ferrer.

     The music for Wait Until Dark was done by Henri Mancini would also did Audrey’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s  and Charade.

I can't see you, but I lit this match so you could see how crazy my face is right now.

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